The world rising out of the murk puzzled Yoto. This was not the dreamworld. A broken bed frame jabbed into his shoulders. Running his hand along the edge of the cot only confused him further. This was not his bed, this room was not his home.
His hands wrapped around a support leg so thin and frail he thought someone had placed him in a child’s bunk.
Was he in the dreamworld after all?
He heard muffled screams.
A voice cried out in anguish.
The deep, rattling tones of Olokun roars reverberated through the building, whatever this building was.
Had the Olokun taken him prisoner? Was this one of their cells? Yoto made himself concentrate and look around.
The room looked suspiciously like one of the Healing Ward rooms where he had talked with Celeste. Where they had done business. Where he had used her to acquire Craylik, to line his own pockets.
That felt like another life, a story told to him about himself.
The shouting continued, grew louder, matched by louder Olokun roars and curses.
If this was not a prison, then there was nothing to keep Yoto here. If this was a prison, he must escape. There were Olokun near.
Yoto rose with more force than intended, his head smashing into the ceiling, sending stone showering down around his feet. Shards pelted his toes. They felt numb, as though he had fallen asleep sitting on his legs. Only the barest slivers of light entered around the edges of the doorway, barely enough to see by.
Enough to startle Yoto.
He stared at a hand that seemed as large as his whole body, a hand attached to an arm that was immense and filled with strength. He moved to the door to open it so he could better see what madness this was.
After fumbling at the latch with thick fingers, he grew angry and simply tore off the entire mechanism, holding it up before himself, confused.
The door drifted open, the light piercing his brain, sending pain rippling to the back of his skull. He leaned against the doorframe, which groaned as though his weight was too great for it to bear.
When his eyes adapted to the light of what Yoto recognized as the Healing Ward hallway, he looked down at himself—
And nearly collapsed at what he saw.
More even than the enormity of the body he now inhabited, the sight of a dagger’s handle jutting from his chest captured Yoto’s attention. The dagger was imbedded so deeply that no bit of its blade remained visible. The blade was entirely inside him.
The shouts and distant crashes all dwindled as he stared at the dagger’s hilt. He gave the haft a single experimental touch.
Heat shot through him, a lightning crack of pain that knocked him against the wall. His body burst into an explosion of agony, his very anatomy pulsating and swelling further.
Yoto let out a few shallow breaths, forcing the air in and out, the strain too intense for him to move. A surge crept through him. He watched his toes widen their splay across the dirty floor.
The surge slowed, and he could think again.
How had this knife been buried in him—and how could he survive such a thing? How had he grown so huge? How—
The scream he heard earlier returned, punctuated by choking sobs, a cry for help. He recognized the voice.
Yoto ceased thinking. He put one foot in front of the other. The floor buckled beneath his weight. He moved forward, taking greater control of his unfamiliar body with each step. Before he reached the end of the corridor the act of walking no longer seemed like an alien activity.
He burst into one of the rooms.
Broken beds lay scattered, the bloody corpses of Numah who had been patients strewn about the room, becoming bits of debris themselves.
Yoto lumbered forward, leaving a trail of enormous bloody footprints as he followed the screams toward their source.
Most of the Olokun had gathered in the large storage room, tearing apart cabinets, breaking open boxes and crates. One pulled open a door to find a small Numah female hiding, curled up into a ball. He pulled her out by the neck.
“Where is the fugitive, slave?”
She responded with sobs. The guard smashed her head against a counter until her sobbing was stopped forever. The Olokun turned to Celeste.
“You allowed him entry here. Do not deny this.” He approached her. “Tell me where he is.”
Celeste looked away, pursing her lips and folding her arms.
Precisely the response the guard wanted.
The first response, at any rate.
Yoto continued to follow the wreckage in the direction of the sounds.
Those sounds intensified as he entered the storage room.
Celeste was bent over a splintered piece of cabinetry as one of the guards profaned her, toying with her body, laughing in response to her cries.
For an instant Yoto convinced himself that he was in the dreamworld, that all of this was the dreamworld once more and that he was yet again the monster of his dreams.
But simply remembering the dreamworld and its visions told him this was no dream—and the dreamworld itself had foreseen himself become…
Yoto approached the guard from behind, Yoto’s silhouette so large that it engulfed his quarry like a coming storm. He now stood a full head taller than any of the Olokun. His breathing sounded like the efforts of heavy machinery. Each inhale expanded his chest so greatly that the act bleached his indigo flesh and revealed hundreds of rippling veins and cords of sinew.
Roaring with a fierceness that surprised even himself, Yoto threw a punch that connected with the guard’s mouth. The force splintered the Olokun’s jaw, spraying teeth on his fellow guards.
Not waiting for reprisal, Yoto slammed the palm of his hand into the guard’s remaining upper teeth, the Olokun’s spine breaking in a series of wet popping noises. Yoto kicked the corpse in the chest, sending it into a pile of cabinetry.
Celeste fell to the floor, doused in Olokun blood.
Yoto smashed the next charging enemy squarely in the chest with both fists, sending him tumbling into the two directly behind him. The leader moved to Yoto’s side, lunging for the giant’s neck, but realized he’d have to scale Yoto’s body to reach it.
The Olokun clutched for the only thing available, the blade.
Grabbing the haft, the Olokun wrenched hard.
The white-hot pain returned to Yoto, even more intense, spreading to his fingertips. He felt as though he would burst, the energy tearing him apart as he grew in size.
A stench filled the room as the dagger’s haft seared the flesh of the Olokun’s hand. He finally peeled his fingers away from the weapon, the skin sliding off to reveal wet muscle, a bit of exposed, charred bone.
A loud thud pulled the guards’ attention away from their fallen comrade.
They looked back and then up.
The ceiling bit into Yoto’s back, he could no longer stand up straight. Pain rippled through his chest in waves. Cracks spread through the ceiling, chunks clattering to the ground.
Anger obliterated the world.
Everything boiled up, the rage of a lifetime, the corpses of his parents before his eyes, the life of running and hiding and making deals, accommodating the Olokun just to get the tiny advantages he had scraped together.
A pathetic existence toadying for monsters just to get by, a wasted, sad life.
He saw it all now for what it was, for what it had always been—the life that created the dreamworld, the life that created the Yoto he had been.
The Yoto he no longer was.
Taking one loud step forward, Yoto glowered down at the guards, standing nearly five heads taller than the Olokun now.
Beneath him, Celeste scrambled away, pressing herself against the farthest wall.
Yoto charged, slamming his shoulder into the leader, lifting him off the floor. The wall shattered as he drove the Olokun through it. Throwing the already unconscious guard to the ground, he stomped down with his massive foot. Viscera and blood painted the broken chunks of stone and splintered bits of wood.
Another Olokun launched himself forward. Yoto threw back a fist, the backhand tossing the enemy across the room.
The floor shook, walls buckling and crackling from the footfall of the monster stomping across the chamber towards the remaining enemies.
He grabbed two Olokun attempting to flee. The first screamed as Yoto’s fingers pierced his armor, collapsing him inside his own shell. Yoto threw the lifeless body to the floor and used his free hand to twist the head off the other from its neck, what brief scream the Olokun could manage lost beneath Yoto’s furious roar.
Only one Olokun remained, his mouth agape, standing at the center of the rubble.
Yoto’s retinas grew wide, focusing in on his prey.
The guard took flight, jumping over upended beds and tripping on equipment.
The cowardice provoked Yoto even further, and he broke into a full run, the ceiling collapsing with each strike his head made, beams and supports bursting as they were struck by his outstretched arms.
Nearly at the entryway, the guard found a second wind, added speed, almost crossing the threshold.
Yoto sank his powerful feet into the floor and launched himself toward the Olokun.
The force of the gargantuan Numah crushed his victim, a single garbled yelp sounding before the weight of the monster collapsed the Olokun’s torso.
Yoto rose to his knees and began punching the guard, landing blow after blow long after the guard’s death. Yoto’s fingers grew sticky with blood. When he stopped, gasping, out of breath, only the Olokun’s legs remained recognizable.
Yoto had spent a life running, avoiding violence, talking his way out of any confrontation that promised it. Yoto could not honestly remember ever throwing a punch before this. When all else had failed, Eon had always defended him from serious peril.
Eon. Where is Eon? What happened?
Everything had gone wrong from the moment he betrayed his brother…
From earlier than that, from the moment he refused to lend his help to Eon’s rebellion…
Earlier than that, from the moment Yoto first made a deal with the Olokun, trading freedom for favor…
Earlier even than that, Yoto realized, as he sat over the remains of the Olokun he had destroyed.
From the moment I covered my eyes as my parents died, hid behind my cowardice as Vega killed my parents.
He stood up, aware that the building was coming down around him. The entire structure began to crumble inward. Remembering Celeste, still trapped inside, he ran back in through the shattered chaos he had created. Pillars of stone punched down through the floor around him, the building disintegrating further with each step he took. He burst into the main room, his momentum too great to control on the smooth floor. The support wall collapsed as Yoto’s weight struck it, an entire portion of the ceiling crashing down upon his head. Barely noticing the sting, no worse than a small insect, he rose out of the rubble.
The frantic searching didn’t reveal Celeste. A yelp came as another wall fell inward. Yoto stomped in the direction of the sound, knocking equipment and stone blocks aside until he found her, pinned but apparently not badly injured, beneath a pile of cabinets whose sturdy construction had deflected the worst of the rubble from striking her.
A groan passed through the main supports as they gave way. Yoto scooped up Celeste, throwing her over his shoulder.
Chunks of rock battered his head as he bounded toward the exit. He moved Celeste from his shoulder to his arms, cradling her like an infant against his enormous chest, holding her carefully away from the glowing haft as he left the building and loped out into the night.
Celeste gazed at the enormous face of the beast who carried her into the night, wondering what had become of her small friend.
Kelk considered himself a smaller Eon, and as a result was always taking on tasks too complex for a child his age. He often snuck out past curfew, hoping to uncover Olokun conspiracies so he could disclose them to the rebellion. He had learned many of his skills from another of Eon’s admirers, Kelk’s older brother, Mazen.
Mazen, whom he admired only second to Eon.
Mazen, his brother whom Cadoc had killed.
Mazen had made his way through the Olokun with speed, which had not been enough to keep him alive.
Sneaking kept Kelk safe. Predators looked for movement and fear. Kelk kept to the shadows and could remain immobile there, fearlessly, for as long as required.
The mines provided endless shadows to keep him safe from patrols. He would sneak up as close as possible to the Olokun, getting close enough to overhear them.
Mostly he heard stories of sexual conquest, drug use, and violence, but he had acquired a few useful tidbits, which he had shared with those who could make revolutionary use of them.
The information had opened the door to the resistance, which normally scoffed at children, lying about its existence to anyone Kelk’s size.
Nothing had revealed itself that night. He sat in a small cove of rock invisible from the main walkway, chewing on a piece of dried meat stolen from a vendor earlier.
A massive tremor shook the ground, the vibrations knocking the snack from his hand. Smoke and dust poured down the tunnel, followed by a series of sharp quakes. Kelk jumped out of his hiding place, the snack forgotten, and set out following the sound, the smoke hiding him from any potential attackers. He hurried up the tunnel.
Dust and dirt spewed out of the Healing Ward. Kelk ducked behind a pile of garbage placed next to a rickety utility shack, peering out between a gap in the bags.
A wide stain trailed from the ruins of the inner building, ending in a pair of cracked Olokun legs and a confusing pile of organs and bones. The sight reminded Kelk of the floor at a meat shop in Edgefront.
A mammoth figure jumped clear of the Healing Ward as the entire facility imploded, crashing into the ground.
The beast knelt down, catching his breath for a moment. It took the creature several more seconds to notice the screaming directly beneath him.
Most children knew Celeste. She gave aid without question, and usually gave a treat along with treatment.
Now this… thing had her, this thing that had destroyed the Healing Ward and wrought further destruction with every pounding step.
This was no time to hide in the shadows, Kelk thought.
“Let her go!” he shouted, racing forward. “Let Celeste go! Don’t hurt her!”
The monster looked up, his vast features appearing almost startled.
But it placed Celeste on the ground almost delicately, a safe distance from the destroyed building.
Celeste knelt, trembling, before the creature.
The monster held out a hand to her, and she recoiled. Kelk saw something strange pass across the creature’s face, as though the look of disgust and fear Celeste displayed wounded it worse than any attack possibly could.
The beast moved backwards, looking more distraught with each step.
At last, as Kelk joined Celeste, the creature turned away and ran off toward the swamps.
The shadows concealed Cadoc from Kelk and Celeste. He rarely chose to hide from such petty creatures, but what he had seen gave reason to… wait. To be patient. He saw the monstrosity erupt from the ward. And he saw the blade that pierced the creature’s muscular chest.
The blade, Cadoc remembered, from before.
The blade Vega, his father, so desperately desired.
The blade, Cadoc thought, my blade.
The dagger was his key to the throne and the source of Vega’s demise. But he had to take it first. Cadoc raised a sharp talon and slowly carved a fresh marking into a blank area on his torso, a new symbol for his newest victim. Then he sunk back into the darkness, making his way after the Numah monster.
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